Grab your tissues and nasal aspirators! It’s the most sniffly time of the year.
Like most parents, the thought of cold season probably strikes fear in your heart. For good reason. Infants can get seven colds in their first year alone, the Mayo Clinic says, all of which can seriously disrupt sleep. Even if your child is a star snoozer, a cold could result in odd sleep hours, multiple nighttime wakeups and increased clinginess around bedtime.
So what can you do about getting your little one’s sleep on track when a cold strikes? According to Dr. Haviva Veler, director of the Weill Cornell Pediatric Sleep Center, not much. At least, not right away.
“You can’t really control their sleep during a cold or the flu,” Dr. Veler says. “You just have to treat them and help them get through it.”
That often means putting sleep training and bedtime routines on hold for a week to 10 days, rushing to your baby’s bedside when they cry at night and giving them the comfort they need without necessarily worrying about negative sleep associations. There are also some practical things you can do to aid sleep during a cold. A saline spray and nasal aspirator can help stuffy noses breathe better at night. And a humidifier can ensure the air in the nursery stays moist.
Once the cold has bid your baby adieu, that’s when it’s time to focus on getting sleep on track again. Bring back the bedtime routine, as well as any sleep training methods you implemented prior to the cold. Beware: your baby may resist at first.
“When babies get sick, you have to respond to them at night and they very quickly get used to that,” says Dr. Cory Kercher, assistant professor of pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medical College. “They’re used to waking up in the middle of the night and you coming to help them. So you have to retrain them so they can sleep through the night without you.”
Have no fear, though. If your infant slept through the night before a cold, they should be able to do so again after a cold.
“Things will throw off their schedule all the time,” says Dr. Kercher. “Let them feel better. And then get back to normal.”